UMBC's bid vs. La Salle falls short

La Salle 70, UMBC 55

November 21, 2005|By RICH SCHERR | RICH SCHERR,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As an assistant coach at UMBC, Randy Monroe once put some effort into recruiting forward Steven Smith.

Now the Retrievers' head coach, Monroe last night put just as much effort into devising a way to stop the 6-foot-9 La Salle senior, whom many believe will find a home in the NBA next season.

After using their defensive intensity to stay with the Atlantic 10 team until midway through the second half, the host Retrievers couldn't keep up the pressure, eventually wearing down and absorbing a 70-55 loss before 2,410.

"I just said, `You know, we're going to take our chance and just make him throw the ball back out to one of his teammates, and let's defend those guys,'" said Monroe, a former assistant coach at La Salle. "But those guys are not chopped liver."

While Smith, last season's Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds despite frequently facing double-teams in the paint, guard Jermaine Thomas led the Explorers with 17 points, 11 of them from the foul line, and guard Darnell Harris added 13.

Perhaps more crucial than his offense, however, was Smith's defensive play against UMBC's Nick Zito. The 6-6 senior, who scored 23 in the season-opener against UMES, finished with just 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting.

After being held without a point for 8:39 during one mid-game stretch, La Salle (1-0) took control with a 12-1 run that put the Explorers ahead 55-42 with just over six minutes left. Though they went the final 8:43 without a field goal, they clinched the game by making 18 of 22 free throws during that span.

"I think we kind of lost some intensity going down the stretch," said guard Brian Hodges, who led the Retrievers with 17 points. "Maybe we got a little tired, but I just think we weren't playing defense as hard."

Before that, UMBC (1-1) seemed primed for an upset.

After trailing by as many as 10, the Retrievers came out rejuvenated in the second half, scoring eight straight points to take a 37-35 lead when Mike Housman picked up a loose ball near La Salle's basket and went in for the layup.

With the game tied at 41, however, UMBC began to unravel, taking poor shots and several times getting beaten down the court in going 5:21 without a field goal.

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